The owner of three of Ahwatukee’s four golf courses said they will ever be converted into housing sites and disputed city Councilman Sal DiCiccio’s assertions they could “fall like dominos” and see as many as 2,000 new apartments at one of them alone.
“I don’t know where he gets that,” Wilson Gee said in an interview with the Ahwatukee Foothills News. “It’s not true at all. Foothills, Ahwatukee County Club and Club West will always be golf courses.”
Gee also denied that he would have to take back ownership of the course at Ahwatukee Lakes Golf Club if True Life Companies fails in its bid to have homeowners approve changes to deed restrictions to make way for an urban-agriculture plan that could have as many as 300 new houses. True Life bought the course for about $8 million from Gee in 2014.
A group of Ahwatukee Lakes homeowners is fighting True Life’s plan, called Ahwatukee Farms, which calls for a private school, a five-acre community farm, homes, a farmers’ market and a café along with the homes on the 101-acre course.
Save the Lakes is urging homeowners not to sign any agreements allowing True Life to change the deed restrictions. The developer needs one more than 50 percent of the approximately 5,600 homeowners to sign the agreement.
The group insists the course can be revived, and noted that a Superior Court judge has already ruled that the covenants, conditions and restrictions governing the use of the site requires it be kept as a golf course. True Life has said the site will never be a golf course again.
Gee said he has been watching the fight between True Life and Save the Lakes and that he’s not surprised it has become a pitched battle.
“Save the Lakes went overboard where there’s absolutely no compromise no matter what,” he said, recalling his own efforts to convert that golf course to another use.
“I approached them (Lakes residents) five years ago and told them I’ve been losing money and asked what do you want to do with this,” Gee said. “After a few meetings they said, ‘we don’t want to meet with you anymore’ and that was that. The other courses were subsidizing it.”
He praised Ahwatukee Farms as a “pretty good development.”
“It gives more of a community feeling, which I never thought about,” he said.
Gee disputed claims that any resurgence in the golf industry, while has been facing some rough economic times in recent years, would return Ahwatukee’s courses and most of the others in the Phoenix metro area to their former popularity.
“Unless you are a destination point like Pebble Beach, it won’t happen,” he said.
He said Ahwatukee’s golf courses largely collapsed after the Canadian dollar, called the loonie, began spiraling in value around 2013.
In the last three years, some economists have said, the loonie fell faster against the American dollar than at any other point in its 45-year history as a free-floating currency. Earlier this year the loonie was worth 69 cents against the American dollar.
“The decline in the golf industry has been going on for six years,” Gee said.
“When the loonie devalued, that affected Maricopa County golf courses especially hard because most of our visitors were from Canada,” he continued. “With the devalued Canadian dollar, fewer people were traveling.”
Gee also said that high-dollar luxury courses in the metro area, like Troon, charge fees that are far higher than what he could charge during the winter in Ahwatukee.
“There was just no way in the winter to make up for what we were losing,” he said.
Gee is negotiating with a group of Club West homeowners on the possible sale of that golf course. As for Foothills and Ahwatukee Country Club, he says they are doing well financially. “We spent a lot of money improving Foothills,” he said.
Asked for his reaction to Gee’s remarks, DiCiccio said, “The Lakes disaster all started when Mr. Gee had the water turned off and now we are facing the threat of triple density development.”
He again assailed Ahwatukee Lakes golf course owner True Life Companies, stating, “The owners of the Lakes golf course have a terrible track record with our community and now they are asking that we blindly trust them.”